State grant funds lead pipe replacement in 8th Ward


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Evanston has more than 11,000 lead pipes, but following a $1 million state grant, the city hopes to replace pipes in the 8th Ward.

Jeremy Fredricks, Reporter

Evanston’s infrastructure includes more than 7,000 public lead pipes, which can cause cancer and other illnesses.

Like many Chicago area suburbs, Evanston is full of lead service lines. Many of Evanston’s pipes were built in the 20th century, before the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act strengthened federal regulations. The pipes have yet to be replaced. The city is looking to address the lead piping problem, but Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the process could still take decades.

Reid asked state Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago) to help replace pipes in south Evanston. Simmons sponsored legislation to secure $1 million in state funding for the 8th Ward, according to his office. 

“The state of Illinois has put a mandate on municipalities to replace all of their lead service lines over the next couple decades, but it’s an unfunded mandate,” Reid said. “Because of that, we’re certainly going to need additional funding from the state or federal government.”

Following the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Illinois passed an unfunded state mandate requiring municipalities in place to replace lead pipes. 

While lead pipes remain across the city, Simmons said he wanted to prioritize funding for the 8th Ward, which includes a majority of residents of color and faces health inequities compared to other parts of Evanston. The Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs, a report on health inequity released in the fall, found economic and health disadvantages in historically redlined parts of the city.

“For too long, lead in our drinking water has exposed our neighbors to adverse health effects,” Simmons said in a statement to The Daily. “This funding provides long overdue resources to address a problem that is systemic in nature, is decades in the making and often does the most damage to Black and Brown communities like those who call South Evanston home.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead contamination can damage the central nervous system, lead to learning or behavioral problems and in rare cases, cause seizures, comas or death. Pregnant people and children are at higher risk.

But Reid said addressing 8th Ward lead piping will take time. About 11,000 locations in the ward have lead service lines, according to Reid. He said the city is currently identifying where to begin the replacement project.


Public pipelines run from Evanston’s water plant and split off into various private lines for homes and buildings. Historically, the city replaced only its main lines, leaving lead pipes next to individual households. 

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, homes with partially replaced lead pipes pose a higher risk for lead poisoning than homes without lead pipes.

“You’d think you’d be making the water safer by at least changing out a portion, but what actually happens is you’re making the water a lot more dangerous,” Reid said.

Reid said more money is likely needed to help Evanston replace all its lead pipes. Paul Moyano of the city’s Public Works Agency said homes in “low- to moderate-income areas of the City” need lead-free service lines, often supported by city programs.

Evanston has about 30,000 housing units, an overwhelming majority of which were built before the Safe Drinking Water Act. Dick Lanyon, the former executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and former chair of the Evanston Utilities Commission, said the danger of lead pipes was not public knowledge when many of those homes were built.

“We knew there was an issue with water leaching lead ions out of the pipe (by the 1980s),” Lanyon said. 

But to this day, Lanyon, 85, lives in an Evanston home with lead pipes.

Replacing lead pipes with newer materials — like copper, cast iron and plastic, according to Lanyon — will reduce the risk of negative health effects.

“This is really important,” Reid said. “Water anywhere where there’s lead service lines is not ideal or safe, and that’s why we’re changing this.”
Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JSFredricks

Related Stories: 

Evanston receives $1 million from Illinois government to replace lead pipes

In Focus: Loopholes in federal lead law left 5th Ward in the dark about what is in its water

City looks to provide economic support to homeowners replacing lead water pipes